Since its inception as a team in 1998, the Tampa Bay Rays have struggled to attract fans to come watch games at Tropicana Field. Despite a 43-31 record and reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell heading the pitching staff, the Rays are currently averaging just 14,546 fans per game, the second-lowest in the MLB. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as even when the Rays were making playoff and World Series runs in the late 2000s with the likes of Evan Longoria, David Price and manager Joe Madden, luring fans to the park was like pulling teeth. The Rays have not finished better than 29th in average attendance since 2010, when they finished 22nd.
Securing funding to replace the archaic Tropicana Field with a new stadium has continually failed, and rumors have swirled for years that the Rays were a prime candidate to relocate out of St. Petersburg. In an effort to stop that from happening, the Rays have reportedly been given permission by Major League Baseball to “explore” the idea of playing early-season games in Tampa, and the rest of them in Montreal.
Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the two-city plan has “significant support among power brokers” in Montreal, which hasn’t had a team since the Expos moved to Washington, D.C. after the 2004 season. From the report:
Under the plan, the Rays would play in new stadiums in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, according to sources. The ability to play games early in the season in Florida would preclude the need for a domed stadium, cutting the cost of a new building. A month ago, Bronfman — who along with Montreal businessman Mitch Garber has expressed interest in taking a minority stake in the Rays alongside owner Stuart Sternberg — reached an agreement with a developer on a site in Montreal’s Point-Saint-Charles neighborhood to potentially build a new stadium. The number of home games each city would receive has not been determined, according to sources.
The Rays current stadium lease runs through the 2027 season, which isn’t exactly a lot of time to secure funding and construct a brand new stadium, which this two-city deal would hinge on. It also begs the question of whether fans in Florida would come out to see early-season baseball before the team leaves for Canada for the rest of the year when the Rays already struggle to draw any sort of fanbase in Florida anyway.
The plan seems to have a lot of holes, especially the whole “building two new stadiums in two different cities” contingency, but the Rays are running out of options.